Increasingly in the eyes of many, the cycling industry is broken. Despite being one of the growth phenomenons of recent times, heightened industry competition from new entrants, the rapid expansion of online-only retailers, together with some brands and distributors adopting a direct to consumer approach, has created a huge amount of uncertainty in the sector. Couple that with slowing consumer demand, and the pressure is really starting to show.
Independent retailers that have failed to adapt are being forced to close. Others are diversifying and managing on lower margins. This is all despite research that suggests people would generally prefer to buy locally or from a retailer with a physical store, but better prices, choice and convenience has inevitably driven people online.
Consequently, we have seen demands in the press that customers should support local independent bike shops, but if the shops do not have what customers are looking for, if it is significantly more expensive, or customers cannot get it straight away, then it just will not happen, and people will continue to shop elsewhere. We have also heard calls for boycotts of brands that are breaking with the traditional supply chain model. Ultimately though, this will not give customers what they want and surely any long term solution has to incorporate their preferences.
The answer for independents is not necessarily to help them to build and develop their own websites in order to compete online. Shop owners are too busy running their stores and spending time talking to and helping customers. There are lots of examples of shops that have thrown money at expensive websites with promises of Google rankings and traffic but to no avail. Unless there is expertise within the shop, then playing online can be an expensive, risky and time consuming hobby.
Even the largest independently operated websites struggle to compete with the big online-only retailers. Consumers now expect to be able to buy everything in one place, in a single transaction and at a competitive price. It’s about speed and convenience, reducing the amount of time it takes to search and compare.
Independents working together in collaboration has long been suggested as the answer but, so far, no one has delivered a mechanism to make it happen.
Kevin Griffiths, founder of cycling Marketplace BikeZaar, has witnessed first-hand the challenges faced by the independent cycle trade. Kevin’s family is steeped in cycling history, both in competitive racing and in business. His great grandparents opened a bike shop in 1915 that is still operating today. Having been brought up in and around the cycling industry and with a background in software and technology, Kevin is well placed to deliver a solution utilising the very latest developments in ecommerce, social media, and consumer behaviour as a catalyst to unify key stakeholders.
Kevin’s company, BikeZaar, is a digital framework that effectively sits on top of the independent sector. It comprises an electronic Marketplace environment at its core and combines the inventory of the independents into one site. This enables consumers to shop from the largest selection of products, brands and services from multiple sellers, all on one site with a single basket and check-out process. Each retailer is subsequently notified of a customer order to fulfil.
As we have seen with the large online-only retailers, “breadth of product” is an important factor for customers, and by combining stock from all of the independents we can now offer a competitive alternative. For independent retailers this means that they are now extending their market reach beyond their traditional captive radius, leading to new customers, increased sales and incremental business.
Convenience is also a big factor. BikeZaar offers 24x7 shopping with home delivery options but crucially our network of independents is also able to provide local in-store collection, a key strength in such a technical sector, providing face to face service, expertise and advice, together with services such as bike fitting. Collectively, not only do we offer the same level of convenience as online-only retailers, we take it to a whole new level.
Competitive prices are also key and in bringing the independents together, economies of scale and buying power will help drive cost efficiencies that will help to preserve margin, or to compete on price where necessary.
Instantly, through collaboration, the solution delivers the same benefits that have caused consumers to buy from online-only retailers, whilst also integrating the value and unique selling points offered by specialist independent high street stores. In other words, BikeZaar combines the best of both models, and without the independents losing their own individual store or website identity.
Although some brands have rules about not allowing retailers to list their products on Marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay, BikeZaar is very different. It is not just another Internet vending machine. Full-line Marketplaces like Amazon do not cater very well for specialist verticals such as cycling and triathlon and the likes of eBay are considered to cheapen brand value. BikeZaar by contrast is a specialist platform focussed 100% on cycling and triathlon, distinguishing itself by using an overall tone and design that is tailored to the cycling and triathlon community.
Everything available at BikeZaar purely reflects the products and prices found in-store or on the independents’ own websites. Customers are buying directly from and supporting independent retailers. Brands and retailers have complete control over which territories items are shipped to, international pricing, shipping and collection locations. On BikeZaar, there is no fear of brand damage or lack of control and there are stringent controls in place to ensure the highest possible standards and quality of customer service. The platform can also restrict specific brands/products to in-store collection only for brands such as Trek who have a strict no-shipping policy.
Further still, BikeZaar solves business-to-business and business-to-consumer channel conflict, an increasingly common issue occurring as a result of many brands and distributors building a direct to consumer approach. Incorporating brands’ and distributors’ inventory into the BikeZaar model is important to ensure that consumers find what they are looking for, and are not restricted only to those models, sizes and colours available via the dealer network. Brands and distributors can then choose to satisfy orders via their nearest dealer, or directly to the customer but with the ability to reward and pass a commission to their nearest dealer. This ensures a win-win-win scenario with the customer able to find what they are looking for quickly and easily, ‘win’ for the brand/distributor who is able to ensure a sale and happy customer, and ‘win’ for the local retailer who remains involved in the sale.
Whilst a number of brands and distributors already offer this service to their dealers, BikeZaar brings everyone together under a common umbrella, ensuring that all parties benefit from the extra traffic and sales to customers who perhaps didn’t set-out to purchase a specific brand. Certainly many consumers prefer is to shop on one site, with only one check-out and one shipping/collection process.
Customers can subsequently find what they are looking for much more easily, without having to visit multiple websites or ring around shops. Brands can even display this ‘global’ view of their inventory directly via the ‘where to buy’ page on their own website to ensure customers are not distracted between the point of finding what they want and being able to buy. As well as helping customers, this will also act as a significant aid to the independents, helping them to sell stock much more quickly, simply by improving visibility for consumers.
This information also helps brands and distributors to identify what inventory they have and where in the distribution/retailer channels, helping to predict and manage stock surpluses and shortages, together with future production planning.
Kevin’s family has a rich cycling heritage. His great grandparents founded an independent bike shop in Stoke-on-Trent in 1915 which was taken over in 1954 by Kevin’s grandparents Roy and Doris Swinnerton and developed into a very successful business. Both were heavily involved in organising events on the local cycling scene for decades and ran the Newcastle Track League throughout the 1960's and 70's. Roy himself had been a National Grass Track Champion and North Staffs sprint champion for 18 years. He managed international racing teams and was the GB mechanic at Olympics, Commonwealth Games and World Championships.
Kevin’s mother, Bernadette Swinnerton, competed at the top level of the sport, winning silver in the Women’s World Championship Road Race in 1969 and was the National Sprint Champion for 4 years.
Kevin’s father, Phil, was twice selected for the Olympics and won a silver medal in the 1974 Commonwealth Games Road Race in New Zealand. He was one of the few British riders to have held the yellow jersey in the Peace Race, was British Best All-Rounder five times and broke several "place to place" road records. Phil managed the ANC–Halfords team, the first British based professional team to enter the Tour de France. On retiring from racing he established Yellow Limited, exclusive UK distributor for a number of top cycling brands over the past 30 years.
Bernadette Swinnerton, Women's World Championship Road Race, Czechoslovakia, 1969
Kevin’s aunts and uncles include:
- Paul Swinnerton, a prolific track rider in the 70's, entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1980 by gaining the world speed record on rollers, riding at 109mph unassisted. Paul was also National Sprint Champion and won the National Tandem Sprint Championship.
- Catherine Swinnerton (now Catherine Earley) won 2 National Road Race Championships and rode the first ladies Tour De France. She competed in many world championships and also rode the first ever ladies' cycling Olympics in 1984 in Los Angeles.
- Martin Earley won stages in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France which he rode 8 times, as well as competing in World Championships supporting Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche.
- John Herety, currently manager of Team JLT-Condor, won the British National Road Race Championship, the Manx Trophy and a stage in the Tour of Britain. He competed in the Moscow Olympics, and had a successful professional career.
- Margaret Swinnerton (now Margaret Herety) won many track and road events, including the ladies star trophy series and represented GB in 3 World Championships.
- Mark Swinnertonwas the highest placed British rider in the 1980 Tour of Britain and represented Britain on many occasions around the world.
- Tony Mayer was junior National Pursuit Champion and selected for the 1980 Olympics and won silver in the junior team pursuit at the Commonwealth Games.
Kevin’s uncle, Bernard Swinnerton, and Cousins Joe Swinnerton, Sean Mayer and Barney Swinnerton are still active on the racing scene.
Despite such rich cycling pedigree, Kevin chose a path into business, gaining a degree and Master’s degree before going into the software industry. It was through his software business that in 2008, Kevin sponsored his father’s pro team, Pinarello-CandiTV. Riders included Malcolm Elliott and Russ Downing who, despite the odds, won the Tour of Ireland in CandiTV colours in 2009.
CandiTV’s Russ Downing, winner of the 2009 Tour of Ireland. Picture credit: BBC.
Alongside his software business, Kevin spent several years working with brands including Assos, Pinarello, Rudy Project, Giordana, DMT and Corima as part of his father’s distribution business. This gave him a thorough insight into the challenges faced by brands and distributors as well as high street retailers. Through this unique blend of experience, Kevin is confident in his belief that digital shopping could ultimately reinvigorate high streets up and down the land with BikeZaar at the heart of the solution for the cycling industry.